So why does no one talk about how amazing Michigan is? Is it because the people that know want to keep it a secret so this state doesn’t become infiltrated by tourists, like every other state with a coastline? That’s got to be it.
Before I ever saw Michigan for myself, I had preconceived notions about the state. When someone said Michigan, I would think of this:
And a little of this.
So when we were invited to enjoy a family cabin up in Northern Michigan, I figured we’d enjoy our stay at the cabin… and then get the heck out and move on to another state. Yet one month later, when we had to leave, we weren’t ready! So I just wanted to make a public apology to Michigan for judging it prematurely. It is one heck of an awesome state and everyone needs to add it to their bucket lists.
So we started at Clay’s uncle’s cabin in North central Michigan, which effectively allowed us to drive right on past the rougher parts of Michigan (that do exist) and into the beautiful, peaceful, lake-filled woods (that also exist).
Lucy was kept very well-exercised while we were here. When she wasn’t swimming in the lake…
…she was racing the golf cart. The golf cart, by the way, always needed a head start.
Needless to say, her activities kept her pretty chilled out.
We stayed in the northern Michigan woods for a week before we decided it was time to see some great lakes for the first time. Stop #1: Lake Michigan.
I still can’t believe this is a lake. A beautiful, crystal clear, utterly massive lake.
We were driving up the western coast of Michigan when I zeroed in on Harbor Point. I enthusiastically tell Clay that the little peninsula that is Harbor Point looks like a great place to dip our toes and walk the shoreline, so we head to it. We realize it is a community full of of gigantic vacation rental homes and not open to the public. So I try to neaten my hair, Clay stands up straighter, and we head down the walking path into Harbor Point like we own the place. Don’t tell anyone. But if you’re ever seeking a gigantic vacation rental home on a great lake, look no further than Harbor Point. It was beautiful and charming. So charming, in fact, that no motorized vehicles are allowed on the peninsula. Have no fear though, a horsedrawn carriage is available to take your gigantic suitcase to your gigantic vacation home for you.
We also did a (free!) chocolate factory tour in Petoskey, which was amazing because our tour guide gave us freshly made, still warm and melted chocolate samples right out of the vat. And they made Clay wear a beard net.
Charlevoix was another western coastal town in the mitten of Michigan that we fell in love with, with a charming coastal Maine-esque tourist town feel. I still can’t believe that I just compared Michigan to Maine. But really! Just switch out Maine lobster for Michigan pasties and they’re pretty darn similar.
It was about this time that we realized we were heading back into National Park territory – and we’d actually be able to start using our pass! Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire was our first national park in a long time. Not only was it stunning, but it was shockingly dog friendly in most areas.
However, it was not trailer friendly, and we happened to have ours with us. We had to unhook and leave her behind at the entrance.
So Sleeping Bear Dunes offers incredible views of Lake Michigan, but the dunes create very steep inclines that make it difficult to access the water. However (for reasons far beyond my comprehension), some people take the steep inclines made of loose sand as a challenge, scurry down to the water…and then spend what must be the worst couple of hours of their lives trying to get back up. Yup, I said hours. It takes, on average, 2 hours of continuous climbing to get back to the top of the dunes.
Why some people take this sign lightly is beyond me.
It was difficult to photograph the steepness of the incline, so I’m going to provide a video instead. Warning: this video shows a lot of human suffering.
We then attempted to boondock at the very top of the lower half of Michigan, close to the Mackinac bridge. It was totally full and I had no plan B. So we parked by the lake and ate lunch while we tried to figure out our next move.
And this is when we realized that Michigan, especially the upper peninsula, had RV-friendly casinos everywhere. And so began three consecutive weeks of casino camping.
If you’re interested in the casinos we stayed at, you can see the locations and our reviews on Campendium. Here’s the thing with casino camping – it is a free or very affordable way to have a quiet place to sleep at night while you’re sightseeing. Do I recommend casino camping if you’re looking for a crickets chirping, campfire making, marshmallow roasting camp experience? No. I also don’t recommend casino camping if the allure of the slot machines are too strong for you to ignore, as it likely won’t remain an affordable option! Do I recommend it if you’re either spending the day inside working or are out and about, exploring the area? 110% yes. All casinos are different, but the ones we stayed at invited us to stay as long as we liked and one even had free electricity. It was a great way to avoid the headaches of trying to find available campsites during peak season. Another charged minimally for electric and water hookups ($15 a night, I think), but included hotel amenities with that fee so we got to chill in a hot tub every night. So totally awesome!
So we crossed the Mackinac Bridge, set the rig up at a casino for a week, and thoroughly explored the St. Ignace area. Now that we had made it to the UP, we learned that the people of lower Michigan, AKA the Mitten, are called trolls because they live below the bridge. Upper peninsula people are yoopers. I thoroughly enjoyed the rivalry between the two Michigan halves.
Mackinac Island was our big touristy activity of Michigan, and we were surrounded by more people than we had seen in months. That island is really popular in peak season, and if we were to go back, it would definitely be in the spring or fall in attempt to avoid some of the rush.
The charm of the island is that no motorized vehicles are allowed. From taxis to tours to hotel transport, everything is horsedrawn. Bicycles are also huge on the island for those less interested in trying to hail a horse taxi. And of course, the only way to get to the island is by ferry.
Another pro for Mackinac Island is that it is ridiculously dog friendly. Dogs are allowed on the ferry, on carriage rides, and in a bunch of different attractions. The downside to this was that Lucy was completely mauled by people wanting to pat her all day long. She gets a lot of attention normally that we’re used to, but Mackinac Island was on a whole new level. Everywhere we turned there were hands reaching out to pat her, to the point where we couldn’t even walk down the sidewalk. For those that have met Lucy – she’s a good dog and tolerant, but she’s not outgoing and likes to keep to herself. So this level of attention was tough for her and I won’t be clamoring to bring her back again during peak season.
She did like the carriage tour of the island though 🙂
Still can’t get over the color of these Great Lakes. Here’s Lake Huron poking through Arch Rock. Just gorgeous! I also had to do some extreme acrobatics to get this shot without other people in it.
Fort Mackinac is also centered on the island and was fun to explore.
We also got as close as we could to the Grand Hotel and saw the longest front porch in the world. They have a strict evening formal wear dress code, so it was pretty obvious we weren’t guests there and scurried out of the grounds as fast as we had scurried in. Yes, I just likened us to rats. It’s fair I think given the swank of this hotel 😛
So my take on Mackinac Island? Such a fantastic place to visit…in May or October. We were there in July and the hordes of people reminded me of Times Square with horses instead of cars.
In the St. Ignace area, we also swung by Castle Rock and climbed too many stairs for a good lookout of Lake Huron and the upper peninsula.
Curious to what a lot of the UP looks like? Here you go:
We haven’t been to Alaska so we don’t have that to compare it to, but the UP is like the final frontier of the lower 48. Miles and miles of gorgeous, pristine coastline that’s untouched and free of McMansions and high-rises. Naturally, Clay and I fell in love. Maybe we should come back during the winter to see how much our tune changes 🙂
We got our first taste of Lake Superior when we crossed over the border at Sault St. Marie into Canada for a day trip and went for a scenic drive along Lake Superior’s (stunning) shoreline.
And we continued by hitting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with our newly-acquired inflatable kayak. Just as an FYI, they strongly discourage the use of any kayak besides a sea kayak at Pictured Rocks. That being said, we didn’t go far, were very cautious with weather, and enjoyed water smooth as glass.
Even the beach at Pictured Rocks that we used as a launch point was dog friendly! And the water. I just can’t get over it. Crystal clear!
Our final hurrah of Michigan was driving through the Keweenaw Peninsula. We checked out a few sites of Keweenaw National Historical Park, drove to the very end of the peninsula at Copper Harbor, had amazing whitefish tacos, and enjoyed the lighthouses.
We could have easily spent another month in the UP, but we needed to make tracks to Minneapolis to pick up our first on-the-road visitors – my parents! Until next time, Michigan.